Clashing views color future of stalled N.Korea nuclear talks
By FOSTER KLUG and MATTHEW LEE
Friday, December 7
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — To hear a beaming Donald Trump at his June summit with Kim Jong Un in Singapore, the solution to North Korea’s headlong pursuit of nuclear weapons, a foreign policy nightmare that has flummoxed U.S. leaders since the early 1990s, was at hand.
Since the remarkable claims made during the first-ever meeting of leaders from the archrival nations, however, there have been recriminations, simmering bad blood — and very little progress. In other words, just what skeptics in Seoul and Washington have come to expect from North Korean nuclear diplomacy.
So even as Trump says he’s keen on another summit, possibly early next year, continuing sanctions and pressure from Washington are met with anger and foot-dragging from Pyongyang, which has bluntly stated that an “improvement of relations and sanctions are incompatible.”
One of the problems is a matter of wording. The statement hammered out in Singapore, which called for “the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” was so vague that it seemed tailor made for a stalemate: Each side can claim to be right when they say that they’ve done more than enough and it’s the other side’s responsibility to act.
So where do we go from here?
A second summit seems the most likely answer.
Trump’s national security adviser said such a meeting would not be a reward and that the president merely wants to give North Korea “a chance to live up to the commitments they’ve made at the Singapore summit.”
“He’s held the door open for them, they need to walk through it,” John Bolton said in an interview with NPR. “And this is one more chance for Kim Jong Un who is the only decision maker that matters in the North Korean system to deliver on what he said in Singapore, and that’s possible I think some time after the first of the year.”
Other diplomatic channels have stalled, including talks between Trump and Kim’s main envoys, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his North Korean counterpart Kim Yong Chol.
Pompeo did meet on Thursday in Washington with South Korea’s foreign minister in a new attempt to push the process forward. The State Department said only that the two officials “reaffirmed the ironclad alliance between the United States and (South) Korea and pledged to maintain close coordination to ensure the final, fully verified denuclearization of (North) Korea.”
Pompeo has traveled to Pyongyang four times this year, but canceled a planned meeting with a top North Korean official in New York last month when the North balked. Tentative plans to reschedule those talks, perhaps as early as next week, remain uncertain.
Meanwhile, Pompeo’s invitation for Kim to name a counterpart for his special North Korea envoy, former Ford Motor Co. executive Stephen Biegun, and send that person to Vienna for lower-level working discussions, has gone unanswered.
The views from both Seoul and Washington are complicated.
South Koreans are famous for ignoring North Korean threats, including repeated vows to turn Seoul into a “sea of fire,” but there were widespread fears of war last year amid threats and insults between Trump and Kim Jong Un as the North tested a string of increasingly powerful weapons. Even the most jaded would likely say that things are better now.
There has also been curiosity at the warming ties between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim, who have had three summits and agreed on an unprecedented trip to Seoul by Kim, possibly in coming weeks. Among the more stunning sights this diplomacy has spawned has been Moon, who has worked doggedly behind the scenes to orchestrate the various summits, filling a water bottle at a “sacred” volcanic lake in the North, and Kim being spirited across the inter-Korean border, the world’s most heavily armed, in an armored limousine, a phalanx of burly bodyguards jogging alongside.
But deep skepticism has always been the go-to mindset for many South Koreans, especially conservatives who have seen Moon’s liberal presidential predecessors’ engagement efforts with the North eventually fail to meet expectations. North Korea, it is true, has not conducted a nuclear or ICBM test since November 2017, but according to recent reports from private analysts it still is believed to be churning out nuclear bomb fuel and making headway on its missile program at more than a dozen facilities.
Like the others, the latest such report, released on Thursday, is drawn from commercial satellite imagery and shows activity at a previously undisclosed site where the North is believed to be expanding a missile base. “The base is a strong candidate to receive North Korea’s newest long-range missiles, including those that can strike the United States,” wrote the report’s authors at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.
Although Kim made no promises to halt such work, and U.S. and South Korean officials played down findings they said they were already aware of, analysts say they underscore the difficulty the Trump administration will face in getting the North to provide a full accounting of its programs so that they might be inspected and verifiably dismantled in the event a denuclearization deal is reached.
As Washington and Pyongyang have drifted further apart, Moon, his popularity numbers hovering around 50 percent, has scrambled to keep the diplomacy alive.
Moon’s officials have pushed the narrative — and pushed aside skepticism from critics — that North Korea’s suspension of nuclear and long-range missile tests and the dismantling of its nuclear testing site are meaningful steps toward an eventual total abandonment of nuclear weapons. They also briefly floated a proposal that Washington consider softer sanctions on the North.
Conservatives in Seoul, however, believe that Kim’s outreach is meant to split Seoul from Washington, its military protector, so that it will be harder for the allies to boost sanctions and pressure should diplomacy fail. Any Trump-Kim summit redux, they say, needs to be prefaced with at least a declaration from the North of the extent of its secretive missile and nuclear programs; otherwise, it would just be another concession to a country that has spent years ramping up tension only to reap rewards by seeming to turn to diplomacy.
Still, in a place that has seen regular flare-ups of violence since the near-total destruction of the Korean War in the early 1950s, there’s also interest in seeing if Trump and Kim can pursue in another summit a rare opportunity to test the sincerity of Kim’s declaration that with his weapons program “complete,” he intends to pivot to lifting his country up from poverty.
“With nuclear tensions on the Korean Peninsula dramatically reduced, it is time to find out if Kim’s drive to improve the economy will eventually lead to denuclearization,” Siegfried Hecker, a nuclear expert who has made regular trips to North Korea’s nuclear facilities, wrote recently on 38 North, a website devoted to North Korea studies. “He may determine that his nuclear arsenal poses a significant hindrance to economic development that outweighs the putative benefits it confers. Washington and Seoul should work together to encourage rather than inhibit this potential shift.”
Lee reported from Washington. Follow him at www.twitter.com/APDiploWriter and Foster Klug, AP’s bureau chief for South Korea, at www.twitter.com/apklug .
WhatsApp skewed Brazilian election, proving social media’s danger to democracy
December 5, 2018
Professor of Internet Governance and Regulation, School of Law, Fundação Getúlio Vargas
Luca Belli receives funding from the Open Society Foundations, the Council of Europe, the Internet Society. The views expressed in this article do not represent the opinions of any entity with which he is associated.
Misinformation via social media played a troubling role in boosting far-right Congressman Jair Bolsonaro to into the Brazilian presidency.
Bolsonaro did not win 55 percent of votes thanks to misinformation alone. A powerful desire for political change in Brazil after a yearslong corruption scandal and a court decision compelling the jailed front-runner Luis Inacio Lula da Silva to withdraw from the race both opened the door wide for his win.
But Bolsonaro’s candidacy benefited from a powerful and coordinated disinformation campaign intended to discredit his rivals, according to the Brazilian newspaper Folha.
Days before the Oct. 28 runoff between Bolsonaro and his leftist competitor, leftist Fernando Haddad, an investigation by Folha revealed that a conservative Brazilian business lobby had bankrolled the multimillion-dollar smear campaign – activities that may have constituted an illegal campaign contribution.
Election scandal fallout
Using WhatsApp, a Facebook-owned messaging service, Bolsonaro supporters delivered an onslaught of daily misinformation straight to millions of Brazilians’ phones.
They included doctored photos portraying senior Workers Party members celebrating with Communist Fidel Castro after the Cuban Revolution, audio clips manipulated to misrepresent Haddad’s policies and fake “fact-checks” discrediting authentic news stories.
The misinformation strategy was effective because WhatsApp is an essential communication tool in Brazil, used by 120 million of its 210 million citizens. Since WhatsApp text messages are forwarded and reforwarded by friends and family, the information seems more credible.
The fallout from Folha’s front-page report compelled WhatsApp to issue an apologetic op-ed.
“Every day, millions of Brazilians trust WhatsApp with their most private conversations,” wrote WhatsApp’s vice president, Chris Daniels, in Folha. “Because both good and bad information can go viral on WhatsApp, we have a responsibility to amplify the good and mitigate the harm.”
The company announced that it would purge thousands of spam accounts in Brazil, clearly label messages to show that they had been forwarded, tighten rules on group messaging and partner with Brazilian fact-checking organizations to identify false news.
Brazil’s highest electoral court also created an advisory board on internet and elections to investigate disinformation in Brazil’s 2018 election and propose regulations to limit its impact in future political processes.
It’s a WhatsApp-defined world
Brazil is only the latest country to learn that social media can undermine the democratic process.
Numerous studies have confirmed that a toxic blend of data mismanagement, targeted advertisement and online misinformation also influenced the outcomes of the United Kingdom’s Brexit vote and the 2016 U.S. presidential race.
Brazil’s WhatsApp election scandal should be a wake-up call particularly for other developing world democracies, as revealed in research I recently presented at the United Nations’ Internet Governance Forum.
That’s because the conditions that allowed fake news to thrive in Brazil exist in many Latin American, African and Asian countries.
Internet access is very expensive in Brazil. A broadband connection can cost up to 15 percent of a household’s income and mobile plans with unlimited data, common in rich countries, are rare.
Instead, mobile carriers entice users by offering “zero rating” plans with free access to specific applications, typically Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter. Nearly three-quarters of Brazilian internet users had these prepaid mobile-internet plans in 2016, according to the technology research center CETIC.br.
Most Brazilians therefore have unlimited social media access but very little access to the rest of the internet. This likely explains why 95 percent of all Brazilian internet users say they mostly go online for messaging apps and social media.
Yet the “rest of the internet” is precisely where Brazilians might have verified the political news sent to them on WhatsApp during the 2018 election. Essentially, fact-checking is too expensive for the average Brazilian.
Concern over Africa’s elections
Democracies in Africa, where more than a dozen countries will hold elections in 2019, are vulnerable to the same kind of lopsided access to information that influenced Brazil’s presidential vote.
As in Brazil, many Africans get stripped-down internet access through Facebook’s Internet.org and Free Basics platforms. But, worryingly, most African countries have little or no data protection and no net neutrality requirements that internet providers treat all digital content equally, without favoring specific apps.
In my analysis, Facebook and a handful of tech companies are now racing to collect and monetize the data gathered through sponsored apps, allowing them to profile millions of Africans. Lax government oversight means that people may never be informed that they pay for these “free” apps by exposing their personal information to data mining by private companies.
Such personal information is exceedingly profitable to advertisers in Africa, where Western-style public polling and consumer surveys is still rare. It is easy to imagine how valuable targeted advertising would be for political candidates and lobbies in the lead-up to Africa’s 2019 elections.
Move fast and break democracy
Democracy cannot thrive when the electorate is intentionally misinformed about candidates, parties and policies.
Political debate driven by likes, shares and angry comments on social media increases polarization and distorts healthy public discourse. Yet evidence shows that insults, lies and polemics are what best drive the user engagement that generates that precious personal data.
For over a decade, social networks have been associated with free communication, unfettered by gatekeepers like news editors or fact-checkers. Many in Silicon Valley and beyond saw this innovative disruption as broadly beneficial for society.
That can be true when social networks are just one of many ways that people can engage in open and pluralistic debate. But when just a handful of apps are available to the majority of users, serving as the sole channel for democratic dialogue, social media can be easily manipulated to poisonous ends.
Mark Zuckerberg’s longstanding motto was, “Move fast and break things.” That catchphrase was retired in April 2018, perhaps because it is increasingly evident that democracy is among the things that Facebook and friends have left broken.
Luciane Mundstein, logged in via LinkedIn: I see whatsApp as totally opposite from wgat this article is saying. Before whatsApp the true did not come up do fast and effectively. Moreover the population’s opinion never had space in the leftist newspaper and TV before social media. Considering in Brazil as I have seen as well around the world that most of the media channels are leftist (I don’t know why), I see whatsApp and all social mefia as a chance for the truth and the reality. I just have a question: Why here in Australia I just see leftist news, which shows just opinions againt the population side? This news does not reflect my country’s reality. Could you please bring something real about my country? The poll finished and until now some people did not accept its result. Why? If it was the will of most of Brazilians..please let the new government do what it has to do to improve our Country. After all we want something new, honesty and that be in favour of most of the population. I hope next time see some news about the reality with both sides of the story… Best regards.
Dragon NS, logged in via Google: Whatsapp is not a danger to democracy, it is a danger to the bloodsuckers that destroyed this country’s economy and remaining reputation.
The quoted article from “Folha de São Paulo”, the most powerful “news” media in this country, is the sheer example of what the real danger to democracy is, and not a free communication tool.
As much as I don’t like the president-elect, it can’t simply be implied that WhatsApp was the sole reason candidate “N” was elected when all sides benefitted off of it.
The only real danger to democracy is this leftist cult that wants to regulate internet information and the real democratic tools that allows people to freely communicate.
“Fake news” exists in both ends and it is as old as the roman empire. “Folha de São Paulo”, the oldest of the centurions, used to be the biggest source of information read both physically and digitally by the majority of the population. Now that most of the population is aware of Folha’s constant disinformation fed by political agenda, the giants have way less power.
The difference now is that people have tools with even more power and it collides directly with them.
Fake news is a problem tied to education, not the tools used to spread information. While we have, in one side, the non-contributing citizens fed by their parents that chant their unicorn-view of the world and, in the other side, the ones that can barely feed themselves working 12 hours a day with no opportunity for proper education, we will face the doom that misinformation can cause in all ends.
Kelly expected to depart White House amid Trump shake-up
By ZEKE MILLER and JILL COLVIN
Friday, December 7
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump inched closer to his long-teased major White House shake-up Friday, gearing up for the twin challenges of battling for re-election and dealing with the Democrats’ investigations once they take control of the House. The biggest piece of the shifting picture: Chief of Staff John Kelly’s departure now appears certain.
Trump announced he was picking a new U.S. attorney general and a new ambassador to the U.N., and at the same time two senior aides departed the White House to beef up his 2020 campaign. But the largest changes were still to come. Kelly’s replacement in the coming weeks is expected to have a ripple effect throughout the administration.
According to nearly a dozen current and former administration officials and outside confidants, Trump is nearly ready to replace Kelly and has even begun telling people to contact the man long viewed as his likely successor.
“Give Nick a call,” Trump has instructed people, referring to Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff Nick Ayers, according to one person familiar with the discussions.
Like all of those interviewed, the person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive personnel matters.
Trump has hardly been shy about his dissatisfaction with the team he has chosen, and has been weighing all sorts of changes over the past several months. He delayed some of the biggest until after the November elections at the urging of aides who worried that adding to his already-record turnover just before the voting would harm his party’s electoral chances.
Now, nearly a month after those midterms, in which his party surrendered control of the House to Democrats but expanded its slim majority in the Senate, Trump is starting to make moves.
He announced Friday that he’ll nominate William Barr, who served as attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, to the same role in his administration. If confirmed, Barr will fill the slot vacated by Jeff Sessions, who was unceremoniously jettisoned by Trump last month over lingering resentment for recusing himself from overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation.
Sessions was exiled less than 24 hours after polls closed. But Trump’s broader efforts to reshape his inner circle have been on hold, leading to a sense of near-paralysis in the building, with people unsure of what to do.
Trump also announced that State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert is his pick to replace Nikki Haley as the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and he said he’d have another announcement Saturday about the military’s top brass.
All this came the same day that Trump’s re-election campaign announced that two veterans of the president’s 2016 campaign, White House political director Bill Stepien and Justin Clark, the director of the office of public liaison, were leaving the administration to work on Trump’s re-election campaign.
“Now is the best opportunity to be laser-focused on further building out the political infrastructure that will support victory for President Trump and the GOP in 2020,” campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement.
The moves had long been planned, and will give Kelly’s eventual successor room to build a new White House political team.
Kelly was not at the White House Friday, but was expected to attend an East Room dinner with the president and senior staff.
Ayers, who is a seasoned campaign veteran despite his relative youth — he’s just 36 — has the backing of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the president’s daughter and son-in-law and senior advisers, for the new role, according to White House officials. But Ayers has also faced some resistance. During Trump’s flight home from a recent trip to Paris, some aides aboard Air Force One tried to convince the president that Ayers was the wrong person for the job, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Trump and Kelly’s relationship has been strained for months — with Kelly on the verge of resignation and Trump nearly firing him several times. But each time the two have decided to make amends, even as Kelly’s influence has waned.
Kelly, a retired Marine Corps four-star general, was tapped by Trump in August 2017 to try to normalize a White House that had been riven by infighting. And he had early successes, including ending an open-door Oval Office policy that had been compared to New York’s Grand Central Station and instituting a more rigorous policy process to try to prevent staffers from going directly to Trump.
But those efforts also miffed the president and some of his most influential outside allies, who had grown accustomed to unimpeded access. And his handling of domestic violence accusations against the former White House staff secretary also caused consternation, especially among lower-level White House staffers, who believed Kelly had lied to them about when he found out about the allegations.
Kelly, too, has made no secret of the trials of his job, and has often joked about how working for Trump was harder than anything he’d done before, including on the battlefield.
White House political director Bill Stepien and Justin Clark, the director of the office of public liaison, are leaving the administration to work on President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign. Both are veterans of Trump’s 2016 operation.
The White House staff moves, announced Friday, come as Trump’s political focus is shifting toward 2020 and in anticipation of a more partisan environment in Washington once Democrats take control of the House in January.
Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale, said in a statement that Stepien and Clark will work on “building out the political infrastructure that will support victory for President Trump and the GOP in 2020.”
Stepien oversaw Trump’s midterm campaign push, which included a series of rallies intended to help limit GOP losses. Republicans kept control of the Senate after last month’s election, but lost their House majority, setting up a challenging two years for Trump under a divided Congress.
Clark joined the Trump campaign during the 2016 primaries, serving as deputy political director. Stepien, a former top aide to former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, signed on during the general election as national field director.
Associated Press writer Catherine Lucey contributed to this report.
Follow Miller and Colvin on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ZekeJMiller and https://twitter.com/colvinj